Are you always on a diet?
I’ve always been aware of my weight. I want to say it’s a girl thing. But the truth is, it’s not gender bias. It’s a very personal thing. When I was very young I was blissfully unaware of my weight. I was quite happy in my skin. That was until the ‘adults’ started commenting. It started with a comment from my ballet teacher. And then from a family member. Then the diets started.
I may have been a little overweight but I was only a child. It was affectionately referred to as puppy fat. The thing is, once you’ve stepped onto the weight train it’s very difficult to get off. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, it seems like the thought is always with you.
So I’ve turned to expert Laura Clark from Laura Clark Nutrition to understand some of the truths behind dieting.
Here’s what Laura has to say about diets
Starting a new diet fills us with hope. Especially when the last one worked for a while. But it became too complicated. And juggling everyone else’s needs didn’t help. So it didn’t last and inevitably the weight is creeping back on.
With weight regain, following a diet, comes the blame game. We say it’s our lack of will power or reflect that it was just too difficult to maintain with so many other things going on and mouths to feed. We decide that it probably wasn’t the right diet for us, even though it seemed to work for Sue down the road.
We ease off for a while. It’s exhausting thinking about food the whole time so we allow ourselves to eat freely, convincing ourselves we don’t really care, when really we do. But we just need to sum up the motivation again for another crack at it.
So whilst we’re mothering and living life, we have this track playing on a loop in our heads that we must try and do something about our weight once and for all. We may even have a list of things we’re saving for when we have lost some weight.
When we’re ready, we embark on a new plan! This one sounds easy and you’re doing it with a friend, so that will help.
Off we go again…
If this scenario feels familiar, you are not alone. Over half of the UK is dieting right now, and since you can remember, it has been put forward as the number one way to lose weight. So who are you to question that?
And yet, 95% of people who diet, regain most, if not all the weight, they lose. Is this down to a fundamental lack of will power sweeping the nation? Of course not. Can we, therefore, pause for a moment and consider what might actually be happening here?
Firstly, calorie deficits are bad news as far as your body is concerned. It sparks danger and a cascade of physiological responses to protect you. You may think this is all human rationale stuff that you have control over, but it isn’t. Appetite hormones are upregulated and metabolic processes are down regulated. Our bodies are so much more sophisticated than we can even imagine.
We should be able to understand and regulate our hunger and fullness signals. These are theoretically as straight forward as the signals our body gives us to go for a wee or take off a layer if we’re hot. But they’re not very straight forward, are they? From a young age, potentially we start to have an external influence on our appetite regulation; others telling us how much we should eat, when we should be full, or what constitutes a portion size?
Busy lives, new babies, demanding toddlers, stroppy teenagers, global pandemics all influence our food intake. Signals that were once very pronounced – as a baby if you were hungry, you cried – start to become very skewed.
So even if you’re not ‘on a diet’ and somebody says to you, ‘just eat healthily’ for some of us, that’s difficult to ascertain. How much should I be eating? How do I know if I’m full? Perhaps life experience has led to food becoming one of your coping strategies. Perhaps it’s difficult to work out what is genuine hunger versus more of an emotional drive to eat?
Dieting of course, makes this all the more challenging. Other things, outside of your own body dictating what you should eat and when. Even in diets with lots of freedom, there are still certain hidden rules you must follow. Constantly under fuelling drives up cravings, making you feel out of control and fulfilling the belief that you cannot be trusted.
We know dieting itself increases the risk of binge eating. The diet, binge cycle that so many of us get into can lead to an eating disorder and increase levels of anxiety and depression. Levels of self-worth and self-esteem decline whilst we’re also coping with the stigma placed on our body shape by society as a whole.
It isn’t just a simple calories in, calories out equation. When you consider the role of genetics, and even more profound, epigenetics, how our genes are expressed in response to the environment we live in. Consider twin studies with identical genes, showing completely different responses in terms of weight, when diets are matched for calories and nutrients they contain.
And yet, the narrative we often hear, more recently in the government obesity strategy, is we need to try harder, eat less and move more.
I argue that we have significant evidence that this should be a conversation about raising self-esteem and supporting people with their food relationships, not just the contents of their trolley. It’s not what we eat, so much as the how and why.
There are other approaches that are way more sophisticated, and therefore in tune with our bodies, that allow us to consider both mental and physical health in unison and health at every size. If you would like to learn more have a read. I’ll also be joining Maria on her podcast to talk about this some more soon!
Thanks to Laura for sharing her knowledge and expertise.
What will you do?
You might also like to read ‘One Change Leads to Another’
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